Sunday, August 31, 2008

The tale of two talkers

Two men visited my house last week. My husband invited them both, then disappeared pleading obligations at his office, leaving me to entertain them. If it sounds like the opening of a love triangle or rectangle -- you don't know me very well.

No, just another saga of dealing with service representatives. In this case we needed someone to fix a leaky roof.

The first man we phoned had been referred to us by the contractor who recently rehabbed our bathroom. We liked him immediately, a referee -- my husband was a referee for almost 20 years. And we were astonished when he suggested that the roof might be under warranty, maybe we should try contacting the company who installed it. We thanked him for the advice and called the installer.

The company installed our roof shortly after Charlie and friends blew through in 2004, hired by the previous owners as part of the house sale agreement. The roof actually wasn't installed until 2005. A blue tarp covered part of our roof for several months before they could fit us into their busy schedule. Florida looked liked a blue-tarp-nation after those storms passed through ripping off roofs and tipping trees over onto otherwise sturdy houses. Ours damage was a combination of the two -- shingle ripping and tree tipping.

The crew finally arrived, no one spoke English. A supervisor strolled by now and then and we'd try to snag him and ask questions. Nails, parts of shingles began floating down into our yard as they tore off the old. I listened to nail guns popping for a couple days and then silence. The neighbor came over to apologize -- he works many commercial sites providing plumbing for large projects. He's well versed in the construction arts and always curious and has to check out projects in the neighborhood. He said he hoped we didn't mind, but he intervened a couple of times when he saw the workers making mistakes and forced them to redo a couple of spots. We thanked him profusely and should have taken his warning that perhaps the men working on our house were not prime roofers. We trusted.

The roof leaked -- just a little -- in a couple of places. My husband kept putting off calling about them. Now almost four years later we have major leaks -- he finally calls. Surprise, the roof is under warranty.

Last week their sales rep raps on the door. He's harried and in a hurry. He has twelve more calls to make -- Fay has stepped up his business considerably. I show him the spots on the ceiling, he walks around on the roof and tells me parts of the roof must be ripped up because boards have lifted, etc. He'll have a crew put a tarp on to protect us from further damage.

We wait.

No tarp.

But a few days later we receive an estimate for almost $2,000 worth of work -- no mention of warranty. We phone the referee again and ask for a second opinion. He quickly adds us to his busy schedule -- Fay has been good to his company as well -- but manages to visit us within 24 hours. He greets me at the door, hands me his card, follows me looking at and assessing the damage to the ceiling, offers his sympathy and moves on to the roof. He climbs around, I shout up to him what I know. He scratches his head. Asks to see what the other company had suggested was wrong. He says, "I don't see that. The boards are raised and wavy because they used particle board. It just does that. It is consistent throughout your roof."

I had noticed that too, not as ascetically pleasing as I would like, but my husband, a former lumber salesman, had explained about the boards rippling tendency. No, the man standing on my roof said, "I think the problems are nail pops and improper installation of flashing around the chimney."

He jumped down, got a caulking gun from his truck, lifted a few shingles, applied a little caulk here and there, pounded a few nails in and removed a few others and came down off of the roof. He wiped his hands, mopped his forehead, and sat at the table writing up his recommendations and estimates while cooling down in the air conditioning.

He recommended that we return to the first company and explaining that all that was wrong should be covered under the warranty. I stared at him. This sounded like an honest assessment, not profit based spin.

He handed me his assessment and estimate which came in lower than the first, and did not involve ripping up my roof in several spots. It did involve replacing the flashing and shingles around the chimney. Even I saw that the water problems started in that location.

Then to my surprise he added. "What I did today may be all that is needed to solve the problem."

My stomach clenched. I asked, "What do I owe you for today's work?"

He shrugged. "If it works -- send me a check for $50. If not. It's just part of the estimate if you use us. If you go back to the original company, which is what I suggest, then forget it. It wasn't worth paying for, it didn't fix the problem."

He wished us well, genuinely wished us well. Shook my hand and left.

Yesterday we had another gully washer. With Gustav in the Gulf and Hannah howling in the Atlantic we knew we were bound to get some 'weather.' It rained, it blew, it was a deluge for more than four hours. I was at work through all this and expected to come home to a river in the family room.

But the roof did not leak. Not one drop stained our ceiling anew. The 'estimator' the man who took a few minutes to repair the little problems that he could with a caulk gun and hammer and a little bit of elbow grease 'while he was up there' just saved us money and helped me have faith again. He didn't just talk and tally up profit for his company, he provide customer service, gave of himself without expecting a reward or payment. Perhaps he knew how effective honesty and integrity are in customer service?

I gladly tell you that I met an honest man: Jeff Sleeper of Gilileo Roofing Service.

I don't know much about the company he works for, but if anyone asks me to recommend a roofing company -- I will give them Jeff's name and contact information. He's been with the company for 13 years. It would surprise me that a man of that kind of integrity could represent a company that doesn't hold to his standards.

Oh, and the contractor who recommended Jeff -- he has our seal of approval and undying gratitude for a job MORE than well done: James Ashley of Barrier Free Lifestyle, Inc. But, that's another story!

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